That’s Balzac!


What does a novelist need? Balzac’s letters suggest the following: a peaceful place to work; a home full of beautiful, expensive objects to create “happiness and a sense of intellectual freedom”; coffee strong enough to maintain the flow of inspiration for two months; debts and publishers’ contracts with draconian penalty clauses to reinforce self-discipline with compulsion; several aliases and hiding places to prevent the creditors’ bailiffs from confiscating the expensive objects; and a constant state of romantic excitation without the time-consuming consequences of love. This is the second of three volumes of Balzac’s Correspondance in the Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, painstakingly edited by Roger Pierrot (who produced the first scholarly edition of Balzac’s letters fifty years ago) and Hervé Yon. It contains 311 letters and documents that did not appear in the earlier edition, and a further 202 that have been completed or corrected. Despite this, there is nothing to alter the accepted view of Balzac. There are still very few letters to members of his family, whom he tended to see as a drain on time and money, and the more revealing and expansive correspondence with the Polish countess who became his wife is published separately as Lettres à Madame Hanska.

more from Graham Robb at the TLS here.